Treatments for mesothelioma under investigation
Researchers not satisfied with the survival rates of the current mesothelioma treatments, (surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and combinations of these) attempt to find and prove the effectiveness of new approaches.
One of the most interesting treatments is gene therapy. Researchers are working on ways to alter the genetic replication of cancerous cells. Viruses are interesting “bugs.” They are somewhere between a living creature and a bio-molecular mass of genetic DNA or RNA, with a protein coat. They replicate by depositing their DNA into cells causing those cells to become viral cells.
Scientists are using this viral behavior to deliver what they call a “suicide” gene to the cancerous cells. This is a domino effect that goes something like this:
- The gene is programmed to produce an enzyme that renders cancer cells sensitive to a specific drug that does not affect healthy cells.
- The enzyme catalyzes the drug to one form, which body chemistry then changes to a triphosphate.
- This triphosphate inhibits another DNA phase and allows the triphosphate to compete for DNA and suppresses replication, killing the cell.
- One promising effect of this therapy is that neighboring cells seem to take up the triphosphate and die off.
In a Phase I study (first phase involving 26 patients) one patient remained disease-free after 31 months. He entered the trial at an early stage in his disease progression. Three others remained stable for up to two years before showing evidence of disease progression. Another showed initial response to treatment, but subsequently relapsed.
While 18 patients died, they did survive for eleven months beyond the end of their treatment, and none died from any effects of the treatment. With the average life expectancy after diagnosis being six to nine months, and entry into a clinical trial approximately four months after diagnosis, these results are optimistic.
While much more needs to be done through Phase II and III trials, this therapy is promising and has shown no adverse effects to cause complications.
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